Bible Study: Acts, Chapter Four
RHM Bible Study, Acts, Chapter Four from Refreshing Hope Ministries on Vimeo.
Transcript: Today we are going to study Acts chapter 4 in depth. You can follow along in your own Bible if you like. I will be reading from the World English Bible because it is the only modern English translation that is copyright free, and I can read the entire Bible on video without legal drama or breaking anyones rules. After the meeting today, or sometime this week, please take the matching quiz that I have prepared for you on the website. Thanks to everyone that has participated. Let’s get started:
In the last chapter, Peter and John had went up to the temple in Jerusalem and met a crippled man at the gate called “Beautiful” asking for money. Instead of giving him money, Peter said “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give unto you, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk” then he pulled the man up to his feet and the crippled man was completely healed and began leaping, walking, and hanging onto them.
They moved from the Beautiful Gate, which was an entrance to the temple itself, to a place in the outer courts of the temple called “Solomon’s Porch”. This was a magnificent area that had white columns reaching up sixty feet high and a roof made of cedar. A crowd gathered around them to see the crippled man who was healed and Peter began to teach them about Jesus. That is where we begin.
Acts Chapter 4 beginning in verse 1, reading from the World English Bible: As they spoke to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came to them, 2 being upset because they taught the people and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
Not long ago, some of these same religious leaders had pushed for the Roman Governor Pilate to crucify Jesus, and now they found Peter and John telling a crowd that Jesus was back from the dead. Also the presence of the well-known crippled man who was now doing jumping jacks brought great credibility to what Peter said. The Jewish leaders were very upset, as they had expected this Jesus movement to silently die out.
We should take a moment and examine the Sadducees here for clarity as they will appear again and again in the book of Acts. When Jesus was on earth, the religious sect called the Pharisees opposed Him because of their religious traditions. The Pharisees taught the “oral torah” or traditions of the elders alongside scripture, as scripture. They held the washing of pitchers and cups and various traditions equal to the word of God, while Jesus did not, so they had conflicts when Jesus did not wash His hands up to His elbows before dinner and such.
The Sadducees were a political group, and little good can be said about them. They were the educated, wealthy elite, the modern-thinking men who would sell their mothers to stay in power. Though they were a minority, they controlled Jewish political and religious life. They were evil control freaks, and they did not want anyone rocking their boat. The Sadducees’ opposition was largely from political motivations, which is why the Sadducees were not as involved in early persecutions against Jesus.
Now they began to see a threat to their political structure, and so became enemies of the apostles. In the book of Acts, persecution is largely from the Sadducees. According to Acts 23:8, the Sadducees denied the supernatural, denied the existence of evil spirits, denied angels, and above all, they denied the Resurrection (Mark 12:18), which the apostles were now standing here boldly preaching.
3 They laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was now evening. 4 But many of those who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
The first time Peter preached after the infilling of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, about 3,000 people joined them. Now some of those who saw the crippled man healed and heard Peter’s message, believed, and their number grew to about 5,000. Opposition did not slow the church down at all. At the same time, the religious leaders who had taken part in putting Jesus to death were furious. We see the same people who put Jesus on trial now appear again including Annas, Caiaphas the high priest, and the elders. They arrested Peter, John, and possibly the healed beggar because he is still with them the following day. Because it was late in the evening, they held them until the next morning.
The words here “laid hands on them” indicate that they seized them suddenly. They must have said, “Enough of this”, grabbed them, and took them away. Undoubtedly, there were some unhappy words between the new believers and the authorities arresting them for just healing a crippled man and speaking in public.
5 In the morning, their rulers, elders, and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and as many as were relatives of the high priest. 7 When they had stood Peter and John in the middle of them, they inquired, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?”
The court assembled the following morning and they brought out Peter, John, and the ex-cripple, and stood them before high priest, who would have been seated in the middle. The Sanhedrin courtroom would have looked something like this:
It would be difficult to imagine a more self-righteous, but evil assembly of men than this group dominated by the Sadducees, these highly sophisticated, snooty blue-bloods who had come to take care of these Galilean fishermen.
Though Annas is called “high priest” here, it was more of an honorary title. Caiaphas, his son-in-law, was the actual high priest at the time.
So Peter, John, and the healed beggar are standing there in the equivalent of coveralls today, on trial before the highly educated wealthy elite of Jerusalem. They asked the same question they had asked Jesus when He drove the money changers from the temple. By what power or name have you done this? It was a subtle but deadly trap hidden behind a simple sounding question. If the apostles attributed the healing to anything but Jehovah, they would be sentenced to death using Deuteronomy 13:5 as the base. This was the same mob that tried and condemned Jesus Christ. Most of us would be absolutely paralyzed. But what did Peter do? One thing is for sure: this time he did not deny Jesus or run.
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “You rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, 9 if we are examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 may it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, this man stands here before you whole in him. 11 He is ‘the stone which was regarded as worthless by you, the builders, which has become the head of the corner.’ 12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that is given among men, by which we must be saved!”
The Sanhedrin was the ancient Jewish supreme court, and most of them were wealthy Sadducees who did not believe in the the Resurrection, but Peter hurled it at them like a flaming spear: “whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.” I would imagine that there were many coughing and squirming in their seats, straightening their robes, and thinking of how they could have him killed.
Peter began by asking them “Why are we on trial for doing a good deed to a crippled man?” Then he spoke an inspired message from the Holy Spirit that was unflinchingly personal. Peter told them: “Then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified.…He is ‘the stone you builders rejected.’ Salvation is found in no one else” It is Christ or nothing! Christ or judgment! Christ or Hell! This was one bold fisherman. The courtroom was amazed.
If someone wishes to believe that all people are saved, or that there are many roads to heaven, or that one can take the best of all faiths and blend them into one, they are free to believe that and bear the consequences. They would not be correct, though, to claim that it is the teaching of the Bible. It is not, and Peter made that very clear. So did Jesus when He said “No one comes to the Father except through Me” in John 14:6.
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and had perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled. They recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 Seeing the man who was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.
This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. The Sanhedrin recognized that these uneducated fishermen had been with Jesus, and now there was something different about them. They remembered the night that Jesus was on trial here in the same courtroom, and like Him, these apostles were not afraid. The word ignorant used here is the same root word that is used for “idiots.”
The bold, scripturally accurate sermon had come instantly to Peter and blew the minds of the scholars around him, like Jesus often did. The man who had been healed and was standing there beside them made it hard to argue against the power they carried, much like Jesus did. The Holy Spirit will make you shine far beyond your natural ability when you yield yourself to Him. He will make you the very best version of yourself.
Now to balance this, we need to remember that God has used many people who were greatly educated as well including Moses, Daniel, and Paul. In history, world changers like Martin Luther, Charles Finney, and Billy Graham were educated men. It is just as wrong to think that formal education disqualifies someone from serving God effectively, as it is to think that it automatically qualifies someone. If, however, your education leads you away God, then it can be a hindrance instead of a blessing.
The court could think of nothing to say. Even the cynical, witty Caiaphas, who had sealed Jesus’ death with “It is better…that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (John 11:50), now had nothing to say. It is interesting to note that the Jewish leaders did not make any attempt to disprove the resurrection of Jesus. The Sadducees were usually quick to argue against any type of resurrection. Here they were confronted with it, but could not say nothing. After an embarrassing silence, they dismissed the apostles to decide what to do.
15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, “What shall we do to these men? Because indeed a notable miracle has been done through them, as can be plainly seen by all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we can’t deny it. 17 But so that this spreads no further among the people, let’s threaten them, that from now on they don’t speak to anyone in this name.”
It is amazing how blind people can be. They observed that a “notable miracle” had been done by Peter and John, and that it was seen by “all who dwell in Jerusalem”. The previously crippled man was now able to jump up and down, yet the need to protect their own interests was so strong that they wanted to cover it all up, so they decided “let’s threaten them” which probably had worked for them in the past.
18 They called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves, 20 for we can’t help telling the things which we saw and heard.” 21 When they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people; for everyone glorified God for that which was done. 22 For the man on whom this miracle of healing was performed was more than forty years old.
The early church responded to opposition with beautiful integrity, and the Sanhedrin could do nothing but release them. Threatening them with harm did not change their mind. While researching this, I came across a story of Peter Cartwright, who was a great Methodist preacher in Illinois. He was an uncompromising man, and he had come north from Tennessee because of his opposition to slavery. One Sunday morning when he was scheduled to preach, his deacons told him that President Andrew Jackson was in the congregation. Knowing that Cartwright was used to saying whatever he felt God wanted him to say, regardless of how people might react, they all warned him not to say anything that would offend the president. He stood up to preach and said, “I understand that President Andrew Jackson is here. I have been requested to be guarded in my remarks. Well, Andrew Jackson will go to Hell if he does not repent.” The audience was shocked and they wondered how the President would respond to this, but after the service he told Cartwright, “Sir, if I had a regiment of men like you, I could whip the world.”
The early church did not shy away from the truth, and they did not fear men more than God. They were witnesses to what they had seen. They did not make the story up but simply told the truth of what had happened. The apostles listened to the Holy Spirit, stood their ground, said what they meant, and they meant what they said. The Sanhedrin feared the people, and could find no way to punish them, meaning there was no believable reason to punish them so they let them go. They were blind to a miracle from God, but concerned about what the people thought.
23 Being let go, they came to their own company and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.
This whole situation started out looking pretty bad. Peter and John were arrested and put on trial before the same court that sent Jesus to Pilate for crucifixion. It was meant for great evil, but when it was all over, God used it for good. The apostles went back home and told the others what had happened, which was basically: “We got to tell them about Jesus! They realized we were like Jesus! Then they told us not to tell others about Jesus!”
24 When they heard it, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, “O Lord, you are God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them; 25 who by the mouth of your servant, David, said, ‘Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot a vain thing? 26 The kings of the earth take a stand, and the rulers take council together, against the Lord, and against his Christ.’ 27 “For truly, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together against your holy servant, Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to happen. 29 Now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.”
After the threat of persecution from the same people who had Jesus crucified, the believers all gathered together and prayed for more boldness, and for signs and wonders to be done through the name of Jesus. They prayed in unity, in one accord. Probably one person prayed and the others agreed with them as the word “voice” is singular here.
It was probably Peter speaking, and we should note that he recognized that the words of the Old Testament, were really the words of God. He said that God was speaking by the mouth of His servant David. This is an important point, and it means that Peter believed that the words of King David written in Psalm 2, were actually the words of God Almighty; they were spoken by King David, but given by God. This is the essence of prophecy, then, and now: words spoken through a person, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
They recognized that Jesus had many enemies, but that they could only do what God allowed them to. Jesus had many enemies, but they could only do what God allowed them to. Jesus told Pilate in John 19:11 “You could have no power over Me unless it was given to you from above.” This is the faith that brings real peace into our life, knowing that when we are submitted to Him, that we are in His loving hands and that nothing will come our way, that He has not allowed. Even the most wicked acts of men will not result in permanent damage to us for God takes full responsibility for the life that is submitted to Him.
Even physical death is not the end of us, but only the beginning of something new. They crucified the Lord Jesus, but they couldn’t keep Him in the tomb because men had reached the end of their power to harm Him. When you think about it, this is a very real thing. All the power on earth, the biggest nuclear bomb ever created, can go no further than death. There is a line that its power cannot cross.
David wrote in Psalm 56:11 “I have put my trust in God. I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
John wrote in Revelation 12:11 “They overcame him because of the Lamb’s blood, and because of the word of their testimony. They didn’t love their life, even to death.”
There are things on the world that will threaten you with death, but the peace will only come when you begin to look beyond that. We overcome in this life not by fearing death, but by knowing that He will take care of us regardless of what happens, for His power is stronger than all. We need to remember that this world, and everything in it is temporary. The things that you see around you are not eternal, they will pass away if a strong enough wind blew on them.
After Jesus ascended, the Sanhedrin, the High Priest, the Sadducees, threatened His Apostles with death and beatings, but they had to look beyond what man could do to them and trust in God to take care of them. When you begin to look past what man can do to you, a boldness will come over you as well.
John Huss was an early Christian reformer who was burned on a stake as a heretic by the church in 1415. Do you know what John Huss was teaching? Some of the things that we take for granted today:
For teaching these simple truths, John was excommunicated, free preaching was forbidden, many were beheaded, books were burned, and eventually Huss himself was burned on a stake. When the flames began to rise around him, he sang a hymn to those watching. What a way to go. He knew that God would raise him up on the other side of the flame as He had Jesus. He was in good hands. This was just crossing over to the other side, and the power of men over him was reaching its end. About 600 years later, in 1999, the pope issued an apology and expressed "deep regret for the cruel death inflicted" on John Huss.
All the power on earth combined has its limits and can only go so far, while the power of God Almighty has no limit. If they fire you, He can give you a better job. If they leave you, He can give you someone that will treat you better. If you are sick, you can be healed. When you stumble, He can lift you back up. When they put you out of their circle, He can give you your own. When death finally comes, He will be waiting to raise you back up with His loving hands. I have put my trust in God. I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?
We should also note here that the enemy of the true church wears long flowing robes and usually come as religious people, but with different beliefs. The people at the local bar are not the ones that are a threat to the church, it was not the “unbelievers” out there that crucified Jesus. It was the ones in the long flowing robes masquerading under a banner of religion, with murder in their hearts. It was the “holy” ones that crucified Jesus, they who burned John Huss at the stake. Given the chance today, that same spirit that was in them would do it all over again through someone else. The only answer is to put yourself into the hands of God and trust Him to take care of you.
31 When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were gathered together. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
The place where they were praying was shaken. This may have been an earthquake, or it may have only affected the building, but they had a confirmation that their prayer was heard. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, again. The experience on the day of Pentecost was not a one-time experience. For Peter, this counts as the third time that he is specifically said to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is something that we need to understand, being filled with the Spirit is a continuous ongoing thing. I was baptized in the Holy Spirit many years ago, but I can tell you from experience that today, I can be full, or empty just like the gas tank on our truck. It is usually determined by how much time I have spent in the Lord’s presence and prayer lately.
32 The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Not one of them claimed that anything of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.
The believers were in unity, one heart and one soul. Sometimes we meet someone and we share a kindred spirit immediately; this is the unity that they walked in. This does not mean that they were little Christian clones or that they saw everything eye to eye. It is wrong to believe, as some do, that when believers dwell in unity that they will carry the same Bible, read the same books, promote the same hair styles, listen to the same music, educate their children the same way, and have the same likes and dislikes.
The fact is, trying to conform others to be just like us is one of the biggest obstacles to unity in a church. It brings with it a judgmental inflexibility that repulses people like insect repellent to a mosquito. One of the wonders of Jesus is that He keeps our individuality, while bringing us into unity. For instance, I enjoy playing video games at times; give me a copy of Fallout 4 and I can be entertained for hours. A friend of mine is proud that he has never played one in his life, yet we both believe in Jesus, because how you feel about video games is not a necessity for us to walk in unity.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:4–6: “Now there are various kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are various kinds of service, and the same Lord. There are various kinds of workings, but the same God, who works all things in all.”
The new believers were from different countries, spoke different languages, moved in different gifts, but they were all united as to who Jesus Christ of Nazareth was, that he was Lord of all, and all of them recognized the necessity of living for Him. They shared their possessions and helped one another.
33 With great power, the apostles gave their testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Great grace was on them all. 34 For neither was there among them any who lacked, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet, and distribution was made to each, according as anyone had need.
Because of the unity, walking in agreement, giving and sharing with the needy, great grace was on them all. They automatically began to care for each other through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The people cared for each other. It was not “communism” but sharing with each other. Communism says practically, “What’s yours is everyone’s, and we will take it.” Christianity says, “What’s mine is yours, and I will give it.” A generous, giving spirit permeated this great church and the overall atmosphere was one of care for one another.
Many of the new believers were from far away lands and they were not prepared for a long time away from home when they were converted. As they stayed longer to learn about following Jesus, having somewhere to stay and something to eat became a very real need for them. From time to time, the Holy Spirit prompted people to sell their property and to help support the new church and the growing needs there. It was not everyone at once, but as needed, when prompted by the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, the generosity of the early Christians soon began to be abused as we will begin to see in the next chapter. Later the Apostle Paul gave guidelines regarding who should be helped and how they should be helped. Paul’s directions when gathered together were these:
- The church must discern who the truly needy are (1 Timothy 5:3).
- If one can work to support themselves, they must provide for their own needs (2 Thessalonians 3:10–12, 1 Timothy 5:8, 1 Thessalonians 4:11).
- If family can support the needy person, the church should not (1 Timothy 5:3–4).
- Those who are supported by the church must be involved in it (1 Timothy 5:5, 10).
- The church should examine moral conduct before giving support (1 Timothy 5:9–13).
- The support of the church should be for the most basic necessities of living (1 Timothy 6:8).
36 Joses, who by the apostles was also called Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, Son of Encouragement), a Levite, a man of Cyprus by race, 37 having a field, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
This is the first mention of Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement. He sold his field and brought the money to the apostles to use as needed. We will see more of him because he becomes a companion of Paul. Barnabas was apparently named after his spiritual gift, for everywhere that we see him, he is bringing encouragement to those around him. For example, when Paul dropped poor John Mark, Barnabas came alongside and patched him up, so that he went on to live a productive Christian life.
That concludes our Bible study on Acts Chapter 4. Thank you for watching and being a part of Refreshing Hope!
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Quiz Questions on Acts 4: